Last week’s DYK article was about those who work in enforcement correcting dangerous or unsafe driving habits, and I used my two speeding tickets in 1967 as what it took to modify my “speed limit plus 10” driving habit. Today, I will tell about what can happen when enforcement fails to do their job.

This true story goes back to about 1973 or 1974, when I was living and working in the Utica area. A friend of mine (I’ll call him Brian), that grew up in the Lyons Falls area, (between Utica and Lowville), was still single.

REINFORCING BEHAVIOR

He was the owner of a gas station/repair shop in the city of Utica. Unfortunately, he had a very bad habit of drinking and driving, which was more commonplace back then than it is today. Most Friday and Saturday nights he would go out drinking and then drive home.

Sometimes, because he was drunk, he would find himself and his car in a ditch. Time and again, the police, most of which he knew, would not ticket him but would even drive him home safely as a courtesy. However, this served to reinforce Brian’s habit of drinking and driving.

Then, one Friday night while watching the local news on the Utica TV channel, we watched news video of a horrific traffic crash that happened on state route 69 between Oriskany and Utica.

There was my friend, Brian, shown staggering around the crash, which killed two persons and injured three others. Brian, who escaped with minor injuries and was hospitalized for several days, had hit another car head-on after crossing into the oncoming lane.

One of the hardest things I ever did was to visit him in the hospital — he may have been a friend but I hated and despised the tragedy that he caused. I think that was the last time I ever saw him.

WHAT HE LOST

Brian was arrested and charged with two counts of vehicular homicide, three counts of attempted vehicular homicide (for the three passengers that survived), DWI, failure to keep right, and perhaps other charges that I have forgotten about.

He hired a good lawyer who got him out of the most serious charges, mostly on technicalities. However, Brian paid a dear price for his propensity of drinking and driving. He lost his business, his house, and I suppose most of his assets as a result. He soon after moved to someplace down south, and I lost contact with him — my choice.

In retrospect, although we may not be proper to blame this tragedy on failure of enforcement to have dealt with Brian’s drinking and driving in the past, I firmly believe this might have been prevented had he been charged with DWI some of those times he drove drunk, rather than being let off.

Similar to my speeding tickets that changed my propensity to speed in my younger days, similar action with Brian just might have modified his drinking and driving. Sometimes lessons are learned the hard way, with enforcement playing a big part in traffic safety.

— Dave Werner is vice chairman of the Franklin County Traffic Safety Board.

 

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